Mac Engel

ESPN analyst is sure A&M is close, and for good reason. But we’ve heard that before

Texas A&M may be a top 10 team but its schedule is such the Aggies should have four or five losses, at least, and a Kevin Sumlin-like record will be worth celebrating.

The following is the most Aggie thing ever: Assemble a good team, and line up a schedule from college football hell: At No. 1 Clemson, vs. No. 10 Auburn, vs No. 2 Alabama, at No. 3 Georgia, and at No. 6 LSU.

Kinda disappointed the New England Patriots are not coming to Kyle Field.

“We know those teams are good, but they don’t play them all on the same day,” ESPN college football color analyst Todd Blackledge said in a phone interview on Thursday. “By the time they get to those games, who knows what will have happened to those teams?

“Yes, on paper that schedule is incredibly daunting and it may prove to be that. But I don’t see Texas A&M losing all (five) of those games. I am not going to speculate which ones they will win, but they are a better football team than that.”

Other than the Dallas Cowboys, no football team breeds more confidence and hope based on marketing rather than results more effectively than Texas A&M.

On Saturday, No. 12 A&M will play No. 1 Clemson at 2:30 p.m. in South Carolina. The Aggies are only 17.5-point underdogs. Blackledge is part of the ESPN broadcast team for that game.

Having been in the sport since the mid ‘80s, Blackledge knows Texas A&M, and specifically how close this program has been in that time to becoming the power it aspires to be.

“I don’t know if there is a magic answer for that but I do think they are really close,” he said. “I say that based on a few things. Having been there and seen their resources and their commitment to get to that place (at the top). They have that. The football culture there in that community is tremendous.

“I do think the time is right for them to take another step in (head coach) Jimbo Fisher’s time there. He has done this before and I think they all know what he wants out of players. They are close to that next step.”

Yes, every Aggie has heard something like this before. Name the Aggies head coach, and the hope and rhetoric begins to sound alike. Because it is.

Blackledge bases his promise not necessarily on Jimbo’s presence, or rhetoric, but something more significant.

“When A&M first went to the SEC and had success with (quarterback) Johnny Manziel and they won at Alabama, they were not good enough defensively,” he said. “To hold up in that league, the great teams play great defense. I think they are built to be successful in that league defensively now.”

If Blackledge is right, A&M is actually close.

If Blackledge is right, A&M should win one or two of these games that, on paper, is a loss.

The problem, of course, is that close in the SEC West could be a three-loss season.

What A&M has to do is evolve beyond its game last season against Clemson, a 28-26 defeat in Kyle Field, to convince people that Blackledge is right in his claims that the Aggies are “close.” That game was close, memorable, and the Aggies and quarterback Kellen Mond pushed one of the nation’s top teams to the edge.

“When they played as well as they did last year against Clemson, and how they showed themselves, in that moment I am sure they felt that was a successful night for Texas A&M,” Blackledge said. “I don’t think they will settle for that on Saturday. I think if they don’t win there will be real disappointment.”

Because Clemson has so much returning from its national title-winning team, brace for disappointment.

But if Blackledge is right, and A&M can win three of these five difficult games remaining on its schedule, that is worth celebrating and proof the Aggies are close.

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Mac Engel is an award-winning columnist who has extensive experience covering Fort Worth-Dallas area sports for 20 years. He has covered high schools, colleges, all four major sports teams as well as Olympic games and the world of entertainment, too. He combines dry wit with first-person reporting to complement a head of hair that is almost unfair.
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